Je Ne Sais Quoi (or Jenesequa) – Meaning In English

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

I had to enlist the help of my French-Canadian husband for this article! Just like most of you, I’m familiar with the French phrase “je ne sais quoi.” It’s been used in books, T.V., and movies for years. But what does it really mean, and are we using it the right way?

The True Meaning of Je Ne Sais Quoi in English

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It’s hard to really translate it because French doesn’t always work out when converted to English words. But je ne sais quoi is a fairly common French phrase that we use in English, and most people have a vague idea that it translates to “I don’t know what.”

However, it’s more along the lines of, “I am of the not knowing,” but to us English speakers, that doesn’t really make sense.

You’ve probably heard the adorable and common expression used to describe something that’s hard to put into words or explain. Like that obscure piece of art that you saw in a store and just had to have it, even though it clashed with your home décor. It just had a certain je ne sais quoi.

How Do You Use the Phrase Je Ne Sais Quoi?

Je ne sais quoi is mostly used when we’re describing a certain quality or characteristic that makes something or someone special, interesting, or unique. It can apply to a wide variety of things like fashion, art, music, and even people.

Like when I first met my husband, he was so far from the usual type of guy I went for. But there was just something about him I couldn’t put my finger on that I loved. He had a je ne sais quoi.

Is Je Ne Sais Quoi a Compliment?

It’s usually applied in a positive way, like when you’re talking about a charismatic person or something. But you can definitely use it to describe something negative if you want. We just don’t see it done that often.

It’s like when you went to a new restaurant in town but just weren’t feeling the food. It wasn’t horrible, but not great, either. And you couldn’t quite pinpoint what exactly you didn’t enjoy, so you’d say, “That restaurant has a certain je ne sais quoi I can’t quite explain, but I don’t like it.”

Is the Spelling Jenesequa Correct?

Je Ne Sais Quoi Ngram
Je ne sais quoi usage trend.

So, an alternative spelling of je ne sais quoi is jenesequa. Yes, it’s definitely a rare spelling of the phrase, and it’s not commonly used in modern English, but it is still technically correct.

Examples Showing How to Use the Phrase Je Ne Sais Quoi in a Sentence

  • The party had a certain je ne sais quoi that made it really fun.
  • Our city has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it feel really alive.
  • I love that actor! He’s got this certain je ne sais quoi that makes him irresistible on screen.
  • The new album has a je ne sais quoi that makes it stand out from the rest of the band’s work.
  • The meal had a je ne sais quoi that made it hard to put into words, but it was delicious.
  • I just had to buy the painting; it had a je ne sais quoi that made it hard to take my eyes off it.
  • The hotel has a je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like royalty.
  • As psycho killers go, Andrew Cunanan had a certain je ne sais quoi. [Salon (1999)]
  • Try as they might, the folks at Old Spice just couldn’t seem to recreate the viral je ne sais quoi of their best known ad campaign. [Gawker (2012)]

Which Indefinite Article Properly Goes With Je Ne Sais Quois?

The proper article to use with the phrase je ne sais quoi is “a.” A je ne sais quoi.

The English Language Has a Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

You’ll even see je ne sais quoi used in a more poetic or literary context. Like how a poet or an author might use the phrase to describe the feeling of a sunset or the sound of birds singing. Play around and have fun with this common French term that we’ve adapted to use in English.